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Heidi Levine hugs her driver Ashraf Al Masri after his home in Gaza was destroyed. Photo: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis

It can be tricky to talk about photojournalists’ work without over-simplifying, romanticising or glorifying. Thankfully, this piece Bearing Witness does none. Writer Doug Bierend does a sterling job of describing the decade-long work of Heidi Levine and teasing out the bittersweet award of the inaugural Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award for her coverage of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014. Levine knew Niedringhaus and an award is a strange thing in the face of societies destroyed by war:

“This award has made me reflect, and spend a lot of time thinking back and understanding — I have been very lucky. We were talking about experience — sometimes it’s not even how experienced you are, it can boil down to just having bad luck. I guess I’ve always felt committed to bearing witness, and feel that is just so important to give people the opportunity to know what’s happening in the world, and I don’t believe that there’s any excuse anymore for people looking the other way and claiming, as they did in the past, in history, that they were just unaware and didn’t know.”

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Wounded Palestinian Rawya abu Jom’a, 17 years old, lays in a hospital bed at the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, July 22, 2014. Rawya was seriously injured when two Israeli air strikes hit her family’s apartment. Her sister and three of her cousins were killed in the attack. She is suffering from shrapnel in her face, her legs have perforated holes in them and the bones of her right hand were crushed. Photo credit: Heidi Levine/The National/Sipa Press

Keith Axline and I are editors of Vantage — a new gorgeous place for looking and photos and learning their context.

Some photos we feature are gorgeous and some are gory. In Levine’s case she manages to combine to the two. As Bierend puts it, Levine makes pictures in “a subtle or even artful way requiring a high degree of sensitivity [that] sees through the violence to the dignity of the subjects suffering at its heart. At its best, this skill can convey the true stories of conflict, the hidden personal and private lives shaken to their foundations by the nations, militaries, and leaders which tend to be the sole subjects in any discussions about war.”

It’s a sobering piece. Levine talks about risk, fixers and luck. I’ll leave you with another statement of hers:

“If you’re not trained, it’s really, really important to become trained, to take a hostile environment course, to take a combat medical training class … I have seen a lot of people out there in the field that are very inexperienced. It’s not like rockets or bullets discriminate between who is experienced and who’s not experienced. As you saw, Chris Hondros, who was one of the most experienced conflict photographers, was killed in Libya.”

Read in full at Bearing Witness.

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Women mourn during the funeral of the boys killed by an Israeli naval bombardment in the port of Gaza, Gaza City, July 16, 2014. Four boys died instantly during an Israeli naval bombardment in the port of Gaza, a fifth boy died shortly after the attack in hospital. Israel stepped up its attacks on July 16 by bombing the homes of Hamas leaders after the Islamist movement rejected a truce proposal and instead launched dozens more rockets into Israel. Photo: Heidi Levine/The National/Sipa Press

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Palestinian men run with a white flag in the Shejaia neighborhood, which was heavily shelled by Israel during the fighting, in Gaza City, July 20, 2014. At least 50 Palestinians were killed on Sunday by Israeli shelling in the Gaza neighborhood, and thousands fled for shelter to a hospital packed with wounded, while bodies were unable to be recovered for hours until a brief cease-fire was implemented. Photo: Heidi Levine/The National/Sipa Press

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Palestinians collect religious books in the rubble of the Al-Qassam mosque in Nuseitat camp, located in the middle of the Gaza Strip, July 9, 2014. Photo credit: Heidi Levine/The National/Sipa Press

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Hidya Atash stands on the top floor of her home as she overlooks the destruction in Shujayea, at dawn Aug 8, 2014. Her family’s home was hit two weeks prior by a warning rocket and the family of 40 people fled. When they returned during the cease-fire, they discovered their home was heavily damaged during the fighting. Photo credit: Heidi Levine/The National/Sipa Press

Bryan Formhals has delivered some festive cheer for Raw File and I. Picked as one of his Top 15 Photography Websites of 2010.

We’ve still a long way to go in terms of consistent output, but Formhals is on the money about working with quality editors. Keith Axline has been a rock.

Formhals:

Raw File exploded onto my radar when they brought in Pete Brook as a writer. It’s a perfect example of how a mainstream magazine can tap into the talent of someone who knows their way around the blogosphere. The posts aren’t as frequent as I would prefer, but they’re always carefully selected and well written. You can tell Pete is working with good editors who are helping him refine his message. As much as I believe in independent blogs, there’s no getting around the fact that great editing elevates content. I’ll address this in a future post, but I think you’ll see more mainstream publications tapping into the blogosphere to find talented bloggers to run their photography blogs.”

Bryan confesses the “link-bait” title to his piece, but his selection is in fact very thoughtful and though out. Each pick is a departure point for discussion on a specific emerging, dying or morphing aspect of photo talk, sharing and criticism on the web. A melange of choices. Check it out.

In the interests of disclosure, I listed Formhals in Raw File’s Favourite Photobloggers article.

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© Michael Jang

As far as I know, Michael Jang has not taken a photograph inside a prison … but he has been to many other altered sites.

My good friends Brendan Seibel (words) and Keith Axline (photos) did the real deal this week with an interview and gallery over at Raw File.

Blake followed a train of thought set up by Bryan this week about photography’s late-bloomers. Jang might have words of encouragement along the same lines. He hasn’t exactly had the typical career track; he was exhibiting at a high school seven years ago.

And photographs can change:

Put [a photo] away and let it age like a fine wine. … Some of the work I question, like the Beverly Hilton or the Jangs, if it would have been good when it first came out, or appreciated. I think maybe not. I think maybe you need to age 30 years so that we can look back on it.

Jang comes across as a man who has as few answers as the rest of us:

In the ’70s you could pick a subject: freaks, twins, brothers and sisters, and you’d be the first one to get it. Everyone’s done everything now. You’ve got dead body parts — we’ve done everything. So how do you carve out a niche for yourself now as a photographer? Is it more about the best person who can market themselves? The best schmoozer? The person who can make the connections? It’s a whole new ball game. I don’t know what I would do now.

Times were raw and opportune back then:

In the ’70s I happened to get a guy who committed suicide in Golden Gate Park. I knew I had the only pictures — I sold that stuff to the 11 o’clock news. But now it’s like, “send it to us for free” and you go, “yeah, I can get my name on there.” That kind of sucks for photographers making a living, right? It’s just so diluted now.

And, Jang’s response to the uncertainty? Keep shooting.

My daughter had friends that were in a band in high school and I said, “Oh man, can I shoot this?” and she said, “No! … Oh please? … No!” So what happened is they played the band shell in Golden Gate Park one day on a Saturday. Look, that’s fair game. They’re out in public. So I go there and I’m laying back; I don’t want to embarrass my kid. Eventually I start shooting and one kid kind of comes up and he starts talking to me and I end up telling him that I shot The Ramones. And that was it.

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© Michael Jang

Jang also photographed around Preston, ID where Napoleon Dynamite was filmed.

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